More than 50 Nigerian soldiers convicted and sentenced to death last year by a military court martial have been left to fend for themselves since April, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
Some of the convicted soldiers who spoke to this newspaper said they had been feeding themselves as well as providing their basic necessities for over eight months.
“They said we should feed ourselves,” said one of the soldiers detained at Arakan Barracks in Lagos.
“We survive by giving our ATM cards and the pins to our colleagues to help us withdraw money from our accounts which we use for our upkeep.
“We have been using our money to buy food, soap, and other things.”
The 54 soldiers, belonging to the 111 Special Forces, were convicted in December 2014 for conspiracy to commit mutiny and mutiny.
They were sentenced to death by firing squad.
Femi Falana, who represented 58 of the convicted soldiers at the military court martial, confirmed the soldiers had been abandoned and insisted it was the duty of the military authorities to feed the convicts.
“They ought to have been taken to prison since February this year,” said Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“They were simply abandoned because the system has collapsed. This is just one example of the many violations in the military.”
Mr. Falana said he had brought the soldiers’ plight to the attention of the military hierarchy but got no explanation.
“Once they have been condemned, there’s no longer any regard for them.”
PREMIUM TIMES contacted Sani Usman, the Nigerian army spokesperson, on Sunday and he declined to comment in details on the matter saying he had “no information.”
“There is no way that could be unless there was a problem, like a communication gap,” said Mr. Usman, a Colonel.
The army spokesperson requested time to respond and promised to provide details by Monday.
However, as at Tuesday, a reminder to Mr. Usman did not elicit any reply.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the soldiers are detained in two groups of 30 and 24 – with the latter group being held in an underground facility.
Narrating their journey to detention, one of the convicts, who requested not to be named for fear of victimisation by the army authorities, said they had received an order to advance towards Damboa in Borno State on July 9, 2014, in ‘soft-skin vehicles’ – a convoy that includes Hilux vans and no armoured cars.
There was a distress call that the 195 Battalion in Damboa headquarters was being dislodged by Boko Haram terrorists.
“We were ambushed at around 1.30 p.m. that afternoon where we lost 23 soldiers, four officers, and 32 injured,” Mr.Ogu said.
“The reason was we were not given armoured car.”
The soldier said they had earlier informed their Commander, Lieutenant Colonel K.C Uwa, that they needed an anti aircraft, RPG bombs, and an Armoured Personnel Carrier to respond to the distress call.
“He said we should not worry, when we get there.
“So after we were ambushed and attacked, we withdrew.
“We were unable to extricate the whole dead bodies because of the intensive fire of the terrorists.”
The soldier said they regrouped again at AIT, along Damboa road, and the next day (July 10th), they received from 7th Division, seven APCs and one ‘Emorab’ (a big APC with large front and back tyres equipped with an anti-aircraft).
“They were provided for us to go and pack the dead bodies of dead soldiers back to Maimalari Cantonment in Maiduguri.”
A happy beginning
The soldier said his group had been in Maiduguri since 2013.
All the deployment were led by Lieutenant Colonel S.S Ahmed and Colonel J.A Nuru. The Brigade Commander was M.I Yusuf, while the General Officer Commanding was Major General Entan.
“We were the first soldiers, about 120 of us, to be deployed to Damboa, Mafidin, Bali. We were the first to launch attack on Alagarno, a Boko Haram training ground stronger than Sambisa.
“They gave us anything we demanded. Even if they want to collect it back, they will do it after an operation.”
Back at their temporary base at Mulai Primary School, Damboa Road, on July 10, the soldiers gathered for their evening briefing by their Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Uwa.
“During briefing, usually they give soldiers opportunity to ask questions, if any, and we did,” our source said.
“He (Uwa) said he had been hearing of our prowess, that how come we lost the operation.
“We told him because we were not equipped. We used to get anything from 7th Division and we would win and even come back with Boko Haram weapons.
“We requested (for weapons), you didn’t give us.
“He said no operation until those things requested were provided.”
On August 3, 2014, Commander Uwa was replaced by Timothy Opurum, another Lieutenant Colonel.
“He (Opurum) called for Durbar (soldiers’ briefing) and we told him everything. We said we need those equipment for advancement.
“On 4th August, we were asked to advance to that same axis – Delwa, Bulabulin, and Damboa.
“We told him (Opurum) we were going to go but our ammunition had been exhausted. He called us and asked what we need. We said even if it’s one APC, 50 of us can go and come back.
“He left that night, around 2 a.m. with some soldiers to go and bring what we requested. He did not come back again.”
At around 8 a.m. on August 5, Colonel E.A Aladeniyi, an intelligence officer, arrived at the soldiers’ camp accompanied by some military police personnel.
“He (Aladeniyi) said we should dress up, that he’s moving us (from that primary school) to 7th Division in Maiduguri. We were about 67 in number.
“He said it’s a new order. He left with six soldiers because the vehicle he came with cannot contain all of us.
“Later, Captain Suleiman, a military police officer, came in with civilian JTF and, before we knew anything, they started dislodging our tent. They did not say a word to us until they left.”
The soldier said they were then asked by their Regimental Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer Idris Danladi, to move to Sector 7 HQ – their administrative headquarters in Maiduguri.
“We did not see Lt. Col. Timothy again till the 10th. He asked us to gather, that he tried his best but did not succeed. That the GOC was angry.”
On August 18, the Boko Haram terrorists attacked Delwa, and the soldier and his group were given an APC to go and “extricate” their colleagues from the attack.
“We were the ones that repelled the terrorists. Even (Commander) Timothy commended us,” he said.
“On 23rd August, they asked us to file. We thought it was for the GOC (Major General M.Y Ibrahim) to commend us for the battle on the 18th and 19th but the GOC did not come.
“It was Major Yaro, a military police, that came and asked us to write statements about what happened on the 4th.
“On getting to Abuja, what we saw was criminal conspiracy and mutiny, a two-count charge.”